Nothing compliments a delicious vegetarian meal better than a glass of wine or beer- except when your wine or beer is not vegetarian.
Wait a minute. Beer is usually water, malt, hops and yeast. Wine is fermented grapes. What’s not vegetarian about these ingredients? The answer lies in the filtering, finings, and additives.
- Gelatin and isinglass are sometimes used to clarify beer and wine. Most vegetarians understand that gelatin is made from animal products, though isinglass may be a new term: isinglass is derived from the bladders of fish. Both products are often used to process cask beers and white wine; when added to the liquid, they cause excess yeast to clump and sink to the bottom of the vessel. A vegetarian alternative is Irish Moss.
- Egg whites are sometimes used to clarify wine and reduce tannins and astringency. Albumin, a protein found in blood and eggs, and pepsin, derived from pork, are also used for this purpose and sometimes added to beer to improve head retention. (Contrary to popular belief, a foamy, long-lasting head is actually a good thing in beer- except when that head is due to animal products.)
- Charcoal can be used to remove impurities and odors from wine; charcoal is frequently made from animal bones. Refined sugar, added occasionally to beer and wine to enhance sweetness, is also filtered with charcoal, meaning it too has animal blood on its proverbial hands.
The FDA does not mandate that breweries and wineries label spirits processed using these methods. So, how do you tell if your beer or wine is vegetarian? Look online, for example Barnivore's vegan beer listings and vegan wine listings.